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State v. Tucci

Supreme Court of Maine

April 4, 2019


          Argued: February 4, 2019

          Lawrence C. Winger, Esq. (orally), Portland, for appellants Daniel B. Tucci, Sr., Beatrix T. Tucci, and March 21, LLC

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Thomas A. Knowlton, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine


          MEAD, J.

         [¶l] Daniel B. Tucci Sr., Beatrix T. Tucci, and March 31, LLC (collectively, the Tuccis) appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court (Cumberland County, L. Walker, J.) in favor of the State on the State's complaint against the Tuccis for fraudulent transfer pursuant to 14 M.R.S. § 3575(1)(A) (2018). The Tuccis argue that the State's action is barred by 14 M.R.S. § 3580(1) (2018), pursuant to which a cause of action with respect to a fraudulent transfer is extinguished unless brought within six years after the transfer or, if later, within one year after the transfer was or could reasonably have been discovered. Although we conclude that section 3580 is a statute of repose that has displaced the common law doctrine of estoppel on which the court relied in rejecting the Tuccis' section 3580(1) defense, we nevertheless affirm the judgment because the court's factual findings apply with equal force to trigger the one-year discovery exception to the six-year limitation provided in section 3580(1).

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts are drawn from the Superior Court's judgment and are supported by the record. The Tuccis are longtime residents of property on Monument Street in Portland. Beginning no later than the year 2000, Daniel Tucci was engaged in business as a sole proprietor doing various handyman and home repair projects. Tucci was the subject of numerous customer complaints. For example, in 2008 he was convicted of Class B theft after charging $10, 000 to a customer's credit card without her permission. In 2009, two other customers obtained judgments against him in the amounts of $3, 500 and $1, 800.

         [¶3] On January 23, 2009, Tucci inherited a one-quarter interest in the Monument Street property, which was valued at approximately $81, 000. On February 24, 2009, Tucci transferred his interest in the property to himself and his wife, as joint tenants, for no consideration. The release deed was recorded in the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds. On September 23, 2009, Tucci formed March 31, LLC, of which his wife and the couple's three children were named members-Tucci was not a member. On November 24, 2009, Tucci and his wife conveyed their joint one-quarter interest in the property to March 31, LLC, for no consideration. The release deed was also recorded in the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds.

         [¶4] In 2009 and 2010, Tucci claimed on his tax returns that he paid $6, 000 in rent and paid no property taxes. Following a stroke in 2010, Tucci began to receive Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) and temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) benefits. At this time, however, Tucci had a substantial amount of cash hidden in his bedroom ceiling that he failed to disclose to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

         [¶5] Around 2011, after receiving a number of complaints, the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office began investigating Tucci's handyman business. The Attorney General issued Tucci a civil investigative demand for documents and testimony. Tucci produced no documents and testified that he was receiving food stamps and SSDI. Based on his receipt of needs-based benefits and his repeated representations of poverty, the Attorney General concluded that Tucci could not pay any civil judgment that might be entered against him but continued to pursue a permanent injunction barring him from conducting business.

         [¶6] In February 2012, the State commenced an action against Tucci alleging that he had violated the Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA), see 5 M.R.S. §§ 205-A to 214 (2018). Throughout the course of discovery, he never disclosed the existence of March 31, LLC. At the trial on the UTPA complaint, Tucci again testified to having no assets, and several consumers also testified that Tucci had stated that he had no assets. In April 2013, the court permanently enjoined Tucci from operating a home repair or handyman business. He was ordered to pay $236, 500.50 in restitution for the benefit of the consumers he had harmed, as well as $140, 000 in civil penalties, which were suspended as long as he paid $250 per month toward the restitution.

         [¶7] Although Tucci did not make payments, the State chose not to commence a disclosure hearing during which Tucci would have been required to disclose under oath his income and assets, see 14 M.R.S. §§ 3122-3125 (2018); neither did the State search registries of deeds to determine whether Tucci owned any real property.

         [¶8] The Superior Court found that "based on the various representations Tucci made to the [Attorney General], his tax returns, and testimony of consumers at the UTPA trial, [the Attorney General] believed Tucci had no significant assets and was a tenant in an apartment at [the] Monument Street [property]." On March 29, 2016, the Attorney General's office received a tip that Tucci may have an ownership interest in the property and that the property was listed for sale for $2.5 million. ...

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